Aged care response to COVID-19
The arrival of COVID-19 onto Australian shores has had a significant impact on the operation of aged care homes across the country along with the residents who call them home.
Compared to much of the world, the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Australia has been well contained so far and its effect on young, healthy people is mild. But older people, and people with medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease appear to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms. The virus can infect the general population at almost three times the rate of the flu and catastrophic consequences are higher for the older and immuno-compromised population. Clearly, residents in aged care homes represent the most vulnerable and at-risk group in the community for catastrophic consequences resulting from COVID-19.
As the community would demand and expect, the operators of aged care homes across Australia have acted quickly to reduce the risk of the virus entering their homes and infecting residents and staff. They are working diligently to maintain a hygienic and safe environment.
In response to COVID-19, aged care homes have initiated a number of initiatives and precautions such as:
- Rostering more staff on the floor
- Installing new hand-washing stations across the home
- Taking the temperature of every employee and visitor with a health declaration being completed prior to entry
- Implementing work-from-home programs for all corporate and office staff
- Requiring staff to change their shoes upon the commencement and end of their shift
- Implementing additional cleaning regimes throughout the day
- Delivering additional training to staff and providing site managers with daily updates as well as providing them with direct access to an infection control clinical expert
- Discontinuing the use of volunteers and student placements
- Cancelling resident and family meetings
- Cancelling any third-party contractors or visitors from attending the home
- Encouraging staff to practise social distancing outside of work as well
In addition to these rigorous precautions, employee, volunteer and resident flu vaccinations (where medically approved) are being completed as early as possible ahead of a 1 May deadline after which it becomes law that everyone onsite at an aged care home must have a current flu vaccination.
Many homes have also amended their admission protocols to help prevent the spread of the virus.
To protect existing residents and employees, aged care homes are conducting a swab for COVID-19 of all new residents within 48 hours of admission.
If a prospective resident is symptomatic of a respiratory illness and has not already been swabbed for COVID-19, they will not be admitted in order to ensure the ongoing safety of existing residents.
If a prospective resident has not already been swabbed for COVID-19, they will be placed in isolation by admitting them into a single room with a private ensuite, regardless of their permanent room type selection, until such time that they receive a negative swab, or otherwise 14 days.
All of these precautions have thus far proven successful, with not a single resident in an aged care home in South Australia contracting the virus.
Socialisation and wellbeing
During this time, aged care homes also recognize that it is important that they do not allow physical distancing to become social isolation. Each resident has different needs that are being assessed in order to develop individual plans for health and socialisation while the physical distancing requirements are in place.
Aged care homes continue to look at ways to keep residents better connected with loved ones and health professionals during this unusual time.
To support health and social contact for residents and families, aged care homes are:
- Supporting consultations with health practitioners over a video or telephone call
- Providing extra technology such as iPads and Surface Pro tablets
- Including different exercise routines and activities for residents inside the home or in the outdoor spaces
- Offering additional music, movies, games and conversations in safe physical environments
- Encouraging more gardening, music memories, puzzles, trivia and seated yoga
- Developing more individualised activities for each resident
Like everyone else in the community, residents, families and staff are quickly learning to adapt to the limited environment in which we can operate. The last few weeks have seen numerous wonderful examples of social connection with residents enjoying the letters, emails, phone calls, videos and drawings coming from their loved ones and school children.
The decisive initiatives and precautions implemented by aged care homes are vital in helping minimise the risk to residents and staff of contracting COVID-19. Families who are considering placing a loved one into aged care can derive comfort from the measures being enacted by the trained and professional staff at aged care homes. The choice of whether or not to place a loved one into aged care can seem all the more daunting at the moment, with the added strain of having to weigh up the risks of home and family based care with those of entering an aged care home. We strongly advise talking with your aged care providers (community, home or residential) about how they are preventing the spread of COVID-19, and any steps that you and your family can take to help protect your loved one along with all of our senior Australians.